2017-10-04 23:42:03
Whitney Museum Unveils Plans for David Hammons Artwork in the Hudson

Evoking Manhattan’s past with a strikingly modern vision, the Whitney Museum of American Art unveiled designs on Wednesday night for a massive, airy sculpture by David Hammons crossing into the Hudson River — a project that would be one of the largest public art installations in New York.

Whitney officials presented the plans to a committee of the local community board, the first step in a delicate process of building support for an endeavor that would alter Hudson River Park and potentially raise environmental questions. The committee unanimously approved the plans after hearing from members of the neighborhood and others, who mostly expressed praise for the Hammons work.

“I love this project,” said Florent Morellet, a prominent former restaurateur in the neighborhood. “It’s history and contemporary art.”

The artwork, “Day’s End,” an expansive frame of brushed stainless posts, would sit along the edge of Pier 52, known as Gansevoort Peninsula, and extend south into the water.

Its dimensions — 373 feet long, 50 feet tall — precisely follow the outline and location of the original Pier 52 shed. In 1975 the artist Gordon Matta-Clark’s project “Day’s End” cut five openings in the floors, walls and ceiling of the shed, like makeshift stained glass windows in an industrial cathedral.

During the comment portion of the committee meeting, a few residents questioned whether garbage would collect in the water around the artwork’s poles — the Whitney said it would evaluate that — and whether there would be information on site about the history of the pier (the Whitney said it would provide material through signage and an app).

The committee, which handles parks and waterfront issues, agreed to make sure the artwork would not impinge on the pier’s parkland. The plan will now go before the full board later this month.

One resident, who said he’d lived on Gansevoort Street since 1969, likened it to a “resurrection” of the old Pier 52, which was used in the shipping industry before becoming a sanitation and parking facility.

Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said in an interview afterward: “It’s very poetic, so beautiful. I’m so honored, as I know Gordon would be were he here. I’m hoping it is fulfilled.”

It was Mr. Hammons himself who proposed the project, said Adam Weinberg, the Whitney’s director, as he made a presentation to the committee. The museum had not been seeking an installation, but after Mr. Hammons toured its new building and looked out over the Hudson, he sent the museum a sketch of his proposed sculpture.

“Is this a provocation? Is it a proposal? Is it a gift?” Mr. Weinberg recalled wondering at the time. “We got in touch with David and his manager and said, ‘We’d love to talk to you about this.’”

Whitney officials worked over the last year on conceiving and evaluating the project with Guy Nordenson, a structural engineer.

Although the museum would raise money to support the installation’s construction and maintenance — costs that have yet to be determined — the Whitney does not own the land and would not own the artwork.

Instead, the installation would belong to Hudson River Park Trust, which would maintain it with Whitney funds. The two have yet to forge a formal agreement, though the trust has approved the project in principle.

It was important to the Whitney to brief local residents about the project first, Mr. Weinberg said — although the news leaked in advance — given the opposition faced by another project in the river, Barry Diller’s proposed island at Pier 55, which was scuttled last month.

Indeed, Mr. Weinberg’s presentation had all the oomph and charm of a salesman trying to avoid the pitfalls of the Diller project, which was opposed largely on environmental grounds. Mr. Weinberg stressed that the Hammons project’s poles would be made of “the thinnest possible material” (eight inches in diameter, he said) and that the installation’s impact on the area would be “the lightest touch possible.”

“There are essentially no shadows, it’s completely open to the light, to the air,” he said, adding: “It is a kind of ghost monument. You have a sense that this is something that was always there, yet it sort of disappears.”

Mr. Weinberg compared the sculpture to the work of Alexander Calder, whose mobiles are currently on view at the museum. “Calder worked with wire, he was drawing in space,” Mr. Weinberg said. “In many ways, this is a drawing in space that has an evanescent quality.”

“It will not impose on any uses of the Gansevoort Peninsula — you can still have baseball fields, you can still have park,” he added. “It’s one of the biggest public sculptures in New York, yet takes up almost no mass whatsoever.”

Given that the Whitney was founded by an artist — Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney — and that so many artists live in the neighborhood, Mr. Weinberg said the Hammons project is also symbolic of the museum’s close relationship with artists.

Mr. Hammons, 74, has lived in New York for some 40 years, and “worked his way through the art world at a time when it was not so easy for an African-American artist to make his career,” Mr. Weinberg said. Showing slides of Mr. Hammons work, Mr. Weinberg described him as “one of the greatest living American artists.”

Mr. Hammons himself did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, though his manager, Lois Plehn, was present. The artist is famously private — he rarely talks to the press — and independent. He is not represented by a commercial gallery and often turns down invitations from major museums interested in mounting exhibitions of his work.

The project would rest on 12 pilings spaced 65 feet apart — five of them on the peninsula, with a sixth out at the end and another six in the water. It would not be lit at night.

“At the end of the day,” Mr. Weinberg said, “the piece disappears into the darkness.”